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Suspended Licence, Suspended Pay Cheque?

by Duff McCutcheon


John Lennon once wrote, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans," and look what happened to him. While something similarly catastrophic is unlikely to happen to you, there may come a day when there's a jackknife in your life plans - you've been diagnosed with diabetes requiring insulin, thrombosis, "postural hypotension resulting in giddiness," or any number of conditions that preclude you from holding a commercial driver licence.

If you've been diagnosed with any of the above, or any other illness/condition/disorder on your ministry of transportation's list of medical conditions that could impair your ability to operate a big truck, your doctor has no choice but to write a letter to the provincial registrar of motor vehicles advising them of the situation, most likely with a recommendation that your licence - your meal ticket - be suspended.

You can forget about driving for a while - possibly forever - depending on the condition. Or at least until you can satisfy the powers that be, with medical documentation, that you don't pose a risk on the roads.

So What Now?
If the suspension arose from a condition you can medically prove is directly related to something that happened to you on the job - say a neurological disorder resulting from a bump on the head - then you may be able to turn to your provincial Worker's Compensation Board for benefits to tide you over until your health returns.

"Workers' comp would be paid out if there was an injury, disease, or fatality arising out of the course of employment, though it's obviously not as clear cut as that," says Brenda Croucher, executive director of the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada. "Pre-existing issues would also require some consideration. It's a tough question to have a pat answer without an adjudication process being applied to it, and each of the boards would do that independent of each other. They act under their own legislative policies and practices.

"But in general across the country, before a worker receives compensation, the compensation board decides whether or not the injury or illness was caused by work. In most jurisdictions, the worker fills in a form, making a claim for compensation; as does the doctor after examining the injured or sick worker."

The workers' comp adjudicator considers the circumstances of each case on its own merits, and awards compensation for lost wages (generally around 75 to 90% of income) and medical expenses only if they decide that the injury or illness was caused by work, during the time the worker was actually working.

Therefore, you have to prove that your medical licence suspension arose from something with a causal connection to something work related.

That's assuming you're covered by a Worker's Comp plan. Some owner-operators chose to opt out, and by doing so, eliminate any possibility of coverage.

Private Insurance
In terms of what's available from private insurers in the event of a medical licence suspension, obviously you would have had to have planned ahead for such an event and bought a short- or long-term disability policy - or be covered under your company's group coverage - with sickness disability coverage.

According to Dave Patroch, Manager Sales Development, NAL PATH Insurance Brokers Inc., there's two types of disability policies you can buy: accident-only, and accident and sickness. "And from there you can purchase plans that - in the event of a claim - will typically provide benefits for up to one, two, three, five years, or up to age 65. It's up to the individual and how much they're willing to pay as to how long the benefits will be paid out."

For both illness and accident coverage, there's about a 40% premium over accident-only. Obviously, for illness protection your broker will take your health, age, whether you smoke, your height and weight, and your family's medical history into account in deciding what kind of a risk you pose - and thus how much you'll have to pay.

"Illness protection covers you for medical conditions not arising from an accident that prevents you from working. It could be a rotator cuff or carpal tunnel that develops over time, or cancer, heart disease, etc," says Patroch. In terms of the benefit amount, all of this is determined when you purchase the policy. It's generally geared to what your needs and income are, up to a maximum of two-thirds of your gross income (typically). With NAL PATH, the minimum is $1,000 a month, up to $7,500 a month.

Regarding business expenses that need to be covered over the course of an illness, like truck payments or insurance, some companies incorporate those costs into the total payout. Other companies separate these into a specific business overhead type of disability plan.

Consider also the "own-occupation" definition of your disability plans, which is basically the period you're covered for not being able to do your job - in this case, drive a truck.

After the "own-occ" definition of the policy is realized, some policies will cut you off because while your condition might not allow you to be licensed to drive, it doesn't stop you from doing some other type of work, according to Glenn Caldwell of National Truck League. "A lot of plans only cover for one-year to two-year own-occupation, after which you'll have to find something else to do if you're still not licensed to drive, but are able to do something else - even if it's pushing a broom."

Whether or not the policy is that strict on its "own-occ" definition depends on the plan. Some are based on the claimant's training, education and experience, some say if you can do anything else at all, you have to do it.

Even with sickness coverage, there's no guarantees your policy is going to cover you for your specific situation. For example, say you bought insurance, and three months later your eyesight deteriorates to the point where the ministry pulls your licence. "In some cases, certain policies may have "pre-existing" condition clauses that could preclude you from collecting benefits under the policy if there's evidence that the condition existed prior to you buying the policy," says Caldwell. When selecting the coverage that's right for you, make sure you ask your advisor to pay specific attention to the definitions and exclusions of the policy. There is a difference and it's usually these areas that cause the most confusion and disappointment.

Also, your policy likely won't cover the lag time between your doctor's okay to return to work and the ministry processing your licence reinstatement. Caldwell says he knows of at least one case where a driver suffered a heart attack, had his licence suspended, recovered, got his doctor to sign off on his ability to drive - but had to wait a number of weeks, without insurance, before the ministry got its paperwork caught up and reinstated his licence. He wasn't covered for that period because he had the doc's okay to return to work.

Another unique program that is becoming popular for owner-operators and drivers is a critical illness plan. This coverage fills the gap between life and disability insurance by providing coverage for life altering illnesses that may not be provided for under disability insurance, medical insurance, or retirement income.

A critical illness plan pays a lump sum benefit directly to the owner-operator or driver diagnosed with a covered major illness or injury providing they survive at least 30 days from the date of diagnosis (or more depending on the policy). It is designed to provide the financial resources that will allow owner-operators or drivers to adjust to the changes in their lifestyle that could result after having a serious critical illness.

Insuring for lost income in the event of a medical crisis - accident, life-threatening or debilitating illness, or something resulting in having your licence yanked - is as full of uncertainties as life itself. You never know when your body - or the MTO - is gonna throw a curveball that'll have you sidelined wondering what to do.

Fortunately there are resources available, like WCB or private insurance, that can help - if you've got the foresight to plan ahead for life's uncertainties.

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